Monday, April 14, 2014

A Great Tale from Early in the "War on Drugs"

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is an excellent thriller set in the early days of the "War on Drugs." It's the Bicentennial year of 1976, and the cocaine epidemic that would soon sweep over the U.S. is looming just over the horizon. For the moment, at least, the drug business here is still a relatively laid-back industry, dominated by relatively small-timers most of whom are growing and selling pot.

The narrator, who remains unnamed for a good long time, is a Vietnam vet. He and his partner, Colt Freeman, have a small marijuana patch in northern California and have been making a comfortable living for several years. But they now face increased scrutiny from the law and worse, violent elements, tied to the Columbian drug cartels, are moving into the area, attempting to take over the marijuana business by force. Colt and his partner see the handwriting on the wall and are anxious to get in one last crop before closing up shop. But that will prove to be much easier said than done.

Far to the south, on the Mexican/California border, a couple of bent border patrol cops are in league with a Mexican drug kingpin who's been moving illegal aliens across the border. But the drug lord is now moving into cocaine, and he's anxious to begin shipping large amounts into the U.S. along with the illegals.

The drug lord, Miguel Zamora, is the local "King" of a small rural area that he dominates like a feudal lord. He holds his subjects in complete subservience and in partnership with corrupt Mexican government officials, he has opened business with the Columbians to move white powder through Mexico and into the U.S.

But Zamora has become a little too enamored of his own product and is becoming increasingly unstable. This poses problems for his partners, for his "subjects" and for his aristocratic wife who, in effect, has become his hostage.

Much of the book moves along parallel tracks, moving back and forth between the developments in northern California and those along the border and in Mexico, until both threads of the story converge in a brilliant climax. This is a great and often violent story with lots of interesting and well-drawn characters, and it's virtually guaranteed to hold your interest from the first page to the very last.

Super Long Title For A Review About A Book On Trees With A Super Long Title

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region  National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region by Elbert L. Little
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love myself a tree now and again, but I wouldn't classify myself as a dendrophiliac. I enjoy trees enough to make flipping through this book a real pleasure.

National Audubon's series on North American wildlife and nature is a great resource for enthusiasts. Within, the reader will find hundreds of color photos with close-ups on bark and leaf. There are sketches and diagrams. Maps for every tree show its habitation range. Descriptions come with average sizes, soil preference, as well as details on each individual's twig, flower and fruit.

Reading this I even came to understand how trees can affect our emotions. Drooping willows make us sad, while trees with up-lifted branches give us a hopeful feeling.

Though the wealth of information is so valuable, just as important is the handy way in which its been laid out. Finding a fir or identifying an Ironwood couldn't be easier!

More Laughs With A Funny Lady

Bonkers: My Life in LaughsBonkers: My Life in Laughs by Jennifer Saunders
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was like receiving a moneyshot facial of closure for me and I loved it! Perhaps I should explain...

For years, nay, decades now I've been a fan of Jennifer Saunders, her hit show Absolutely Fabulous and the myriad of satellite projects revolving about her. I enjoyed the work she did with her comedy partner Dawn French. Before that I was a fan of the '80s British tv series The Young Ones, and when I realized both women had appeared in episodes of that show I wanted to know how that came about. Later I would discover the show Girls On Top and wonder where that fit in, it being so very much like The Young Ones, and how was it Tracy Ullman was a part of that project. I'd heard through the grapevine that Saunders and Young Ones star Adrian Edmondson were married. Was that before, during or after they met in the '80s? Did they meet in the '80s or was there prior history? These are all inconsequential questions that only a fan would give a shit about, and that's the target of Bonkers: My Life in Laughs.

The first half of the book is about those early days, when Saunders was scrounging about for something to do with her life and Dawn French fell into her lap. They were fortunate enough to come along at a time when a comedy troupe was in need of a female act, and thus they met The Young Ones gang. In these glorious pages, illuminated with the help of a good many photographs, many of my questions were answered. Wonderful coincidences abound. Familiar faces pop up left and right. Hilarious anecdotes explode across the page at regular intervals. It was this first half of the book that had me ready and willing to hand over a 5 star rating to Bonkers.

The second half had me reeling that rating back in. I wasn't surprised. Right at the start Saunders admits she might not have the necessary baggage and skeletons in the closet that would bring her memoir up to the rollercoaster ride, tear-jerker level of autobios often churned out by celebrities and such these days. Hers is actually a fairly normal life. She prefers things a bit low-key. Not a terrible lot of terrible things have happened to her. This is not to say she hasn't had her share of trials, but either they aren't that dramatic or she does an excellent job of under-dramatizing them. The second half isn't bad, it's just that it didn't have me all wrapped up in it as the first half did. I was a little worried though, because at one point Saunders actually begins talking about writing this book. You know you've run out of things to say when that happens. Thankfully, she jumps off that wayward wagon before it flies over the cliff edge and crashes in the canyon below.

Guilt-ridden admission: This was my "Homer" bowling ball gift to my wife this Christmas. Not that she isn't a big Saunders fan, but I bought this book for her for selfish reasons. I wanted to read it.